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Buck Wood

Yes, they fear what BGT is doing

Here’s the proof.

While saying it had received no complaint against the Democratic group Battleground Texas, the office of Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry suggested Wednesday that the group’s voter registration practices might rise to a “potential level of offense” of state election law.

Battleground Texas strongly disputes breaking any laws and said a flap over its registration efforts has Republicans running scared. At issue is a videotaped conversation with Battleground Texas volunteers in Bexar County. It was gathered surreptitiously by controversial conservative activist James O’Keefe, who has sent people posing as interested volunteers to infiltrate Democratic or liberal activist groups, after which he disseminates video that was secretly gathered.

In the video, an unedited version of which The Texas Tribune reviewed, a Battleground voter registration coordinator is quoted as saying the group takes phone numbers gathered as part of the registration process. She said the phone numbers would be used to call the voters close to election time to urge them to vote.

“Once we register people to vote tonight, we will all turn in our cards and our data person will enter, not all the information, but name, address and phone number,” the Battleground representative says. “We can then call everyone here and say, ‘Hi, I registered you to vote.’”

O’Keefe’s group, Project Veritas, which has been known to manipulate videos to make them seem more damaging to the people in them, claims Battleground broke state election law by collecting the phone numbers.

Whether Battleground did anything wrong in the process comes down to how the law is interpreted. Section 13.004 of the Texas Election Code says, in part, that county registration officials may not “transcribe, copy or otherwise record a telephone number furnished on a registration application.”

[…]

Battleground Texas spokesman Ellis Brachman said the group “fully complies with the law.” He also took note of O’Keefe’s controversial past, which includes a guilty plea to entering a federal building under false pretenses.

“Let’s be clear: James O’Keefe is an admitted criminal with a long and well-documented record of misleading attacks who is trying to make sure that fewer Texans are able to vote. The real story here is that Battleground Texas volunteers are patriotically working to get more Texans involved in our democracy,” Brachman said. “O’Keefe and his Republican allies in Texas are scared of our success and are doing everything they can to interfere.”

A Democratic election law expert, Buck Wood of Austin, expressed doubt that any crime occurred. He said the plain language of the statute makes it clear that the volunteer registrars are not considered to be county officials. He said the law was intended to ensure the government isn’t disseminating private information and doesn’t address what volunteers who get a phone number from a would-be voter at a county fair booth, for example, can do with the information.

So this allegation rests partly on the word of a proven liar, and partly on a ridiculous reading of state law. Good luck with that. Even Greg Abbott had no comment. All that’s left is the smell of fear.

We better hope Amazon sticks to its deal with Texas

Remember that deal Amazon made with the state to start charging sales tax here and to commit to creating 2,500 jobs in return for having back taxes forgiven? Apparently, there’s not much in the deal to make them regret it if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain.

Amazon.com Inc. didn’t risk much when it agreed in April to create 2,500 jobs and invest $200 million in new distribution centers in Texas if the state forgave $269 million in back sales taxes.

If the online giant should fail to follow through on that promise, it has agreed to pay $1 million to the state — and Comptroller Susan Combs could not reopen her claims for back taxes before July 1, according to documents released Wednesday to the American-Statesman under the Texas Public Records Act.

Under the agreement, Amazon.com and its affiliates began collecting sales taxes from their Texas customers July 1.

[…]

Austin tax lawyer Buck Wood contends Combs is not legally authorized to make such a settlement and said she has created a double standard: a “too big to pay” class of taxpayers who get preferential treatment.

On Wednesday, after reading the agreement, Wood — a former deputy comptroller and also general counsel under the late Comptroller Bob Bullock — said Texas is not adequately protected if Amazon fails to keep up its end of the deal.

“I have a $269 million tax liability. I pay $1 million. That’s nothing,” Wood said. “If (Combs) can do this, she can do anything.”

Wood said Amazon got its tax bill forgiven just by agreeing to do what it wants to do anyway — build distribution centers in Texas. He dismissed the economic development aspects of the agreement as “window dressing.”

R.J. DeSilva, a spokesman for the comptroller’s office, defended the agreement.

“The company is collecting the sales taxes quicker than any other state,” he said. “That’s a huge part of it.”

As for the $1 million fee, DeSilva said, “The penalty is what it is, but there is a commitment by the company to invest in the state.”

Wood raised the issue of legality in May, but until/unless someone files suit it’s an academic concern. I share Wood’s concerns, and I have to shake my head at the level of deference being shown Amazon, but at the same time I appreciate that we got this done, without the courts or the Lege or Rick Perry getting involved and mucking it up. The goal was to get Amazon to pay sales tax, which is good for the state and good for the traditional retailers and given Amazon’s same-day delivery innovation may be god for them as well. At some level, the rest is gravy.

Is the Amazon deal with the state legal?

The Statesman raises a great question about the settlement deal between Amazon and the state of Texas that will get the online retailer to start collecting sales taxes in Texas while forgiving back taxes the state says it owes.

But is it legal?

Austin lawyer Buck Wood, a tax attorney and a former deputy comptroller and general counsel under the late Comptroller Bob Bullock, says no.

“While this may seem to be a reasonable resolution in people’s minds,” Wood said, “it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. She just can’t do it.”

Wood argued that the state’s constitution bars “forgiving” tax debts and that the settlement raised the specter of creating a “too big to pay” class of taxpayers who get preferential treatment.

He said it sets a bad precedent in a growing Internet economy when Combs has estimated that Texas loses $600 million a year on untaxed online sales.

[…]

[Wood] cited two articles in the constitution that, in essence, say the Legislature cannot forgive tax debts or delegate that authority.

Wood said the language, dating to the state’s early history, attempted to prevent officials from forgiving the debts of taxpayers with political influence.

There is one exception.

Wood and the comptroller’s office cited the same law that allows the comptroller to settle tax disputes, but they disagree on how broadly it can be applied.

The law says the comptroller may settle a claim for a tax, penalty or interest if the “total costs of collection” would exceed the amount due.

Wood said that if the $269 million tax bill is accurate, there is no way the cost of litigation and collection would approach that figure.

[…]

[Skip] Smith, a retired tax lawyer who has represented clients in disputes with the state, said the comptroller’s authority to settle cases is not as broad or explicit as, say, the Internal Revenue Service’s.

“They don’t really have a provision that gives them the right to settle based on the hazards of litigation,” he said.

Still, Smith said, “The comptroller, day to day, is settling these cases.”

He said the Legislature “hit Amazon between the eyes” when it changed the law last year. But he said it also gave Amazon another legal argument: Did the Legislature add the new language just to clarify the law or because Amazon wasn’t covered by the existing statute?

“It’s arguable,” Smith said.

Smith said the fact that the Irving site was owned by an Amazon subsidiary clouds the issue.

“If it’s a subsidiary’s warehouse, it becomes grayer,” he said. “I think this issue is not totally settled.”

Steve Bickerstaff, an Austin lawyer with a background in constitutional law, takes a different tack.

“It is never in the interest of the state to pursue a claim if the State of Texas is going to lose and there is a good alternative,” Bickerstaff said.

He said the constitutional prohibition against forgiving tax debts is not absolute.

I suspect that if we got a dozen lawyers together to discuss this, we’d get at least a baker’s dozen opinions. There are only two opinions that will matter. One is that of Attorney General Greg Abbott, who will undoubtedly be asked to provide it. The other is that of the State Supreme Court, once the seemingly inevitable litigation is filed. I wouldn’t even begin to guess what they might say. There is no such litigation yet, and who knows when there may be. I suppose if no one files a lawsuit then the matter will have been decided by forfeit. I don’t see that happening, however. Bottom line, we won’t know for sure for several years whether this is a precedent-setter, a one-off, or a false start.

More districts will join in school finance lawsuit

Coming soon to a courtroom near you.

School districts will throw everything short of the kitchen sink into their upcoming lawsuit against the state of Texas for shortchanging public education, a lead attorney in the case said Tuesday.

“We are going to try to cover the water front because the system is so out of whack,” school finance lawyer Randall “Buck” Wood said.

The suit, which he expects to file within the next two weeks, will claim that state leaders have created an “arbitrary, irrational and inequitable” funding system.

The suit also will claim that the state is responsible for the inequitable funding of school facilities, he said, while also alleging a violation of the state’s ban against a statewide property tax.

Nearly one-quarter of the state’s school districts are already levying the maximum $1.17 tax rate for maintenance and operations, resulting in a statewide property tax, Wood said, which the Texas Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in a school finance case six years ago.

[…]

Per student funding in Texas now ranges from less than $5,000 per child in some school districts to more than $10,000 in others, according to the Equity Center, which represents 690 school districts.

“We believe litigation is the only way to ensure taxpayer equity and a quality education for Texas children,” said Wayne Pierce, executive director for the Equity Center.

See here and here for some background, and here (via EoW) for a press release on the matter from the Equity Center. You may recall that during the regular session, State Sen. Bob Deuell released an eye-opening list of disparities in per student revenue for school districts in each State Senate district; the exact range is from $3,732 to $12,979. I can’t wait to see the state try to argue that there’s nothing inequitable about that. The Statesman has more.

That next school finance lawsuit is coming

Look for it when school starts this fall.

Texas lawmakers who left town recently after cutting public education and doing little to fix school funding disparities have guaranteed another school finance lawsuit, according to educators and lawyers involved in the case.

They expect to file a lawsuit later in September.

“There’s going to be litigation. The timing of it is really nothing more than putting together the case. We’re still analyzing all the impact of the mess that they passed,” veteran school finance lawyer Randall “Buck” Wood said.

School superintendents across Texas are “very frustrated,” said John Folks, superintendent of San Antonio’s largest district — Northside ISD — and a respected veteran among the state’s school leaders. Folks is past president of the Texas Association of School Administrators.

Folks sees litigation as a certainty: “If the only option that school districts have to force the Legislature to do what is right — as far as public education is concerned — is a lawsuit, that’s pretty sad.”

Another topic we discussed on that Houston 8 episode I was on was school finance. The mantra Sen. Dan Patrick repeated was that school districts supported the legislation that allowed them to do things like reduce teacher salaries. He’s right about that, but I hope this makes it clear that school districts were not supportive of the rest of the things they did. Lord knows they have no reason to be.

The lowest 10 percent funded school districts in Texas average $5,246 per student from a tax rate averaging $1.15, according to the Equity Center, an Austin-based consortium of nearly 700 Texas school districts. In contrast, the top 10 percent funded Texas school districts average $7,742 per student from an average tax rate of $1 per $100 of property valuation. Simply put, the state’s lesser funded school districts get about $2,500 less per student than the wealthiest districts, despite being forced into levying much larger tax rates.

The system is irrational, unfair, unequal and inefficient, lawyers say.

And they complain that state leaders and legislators willfully ignored the problem.

[…]

Humble ISD is one of about 220 school districts that have hit the maximum school operations tax rate of $1.17 (per $100 of property valuation) and cannot increase revenue.

The district’s administrators have made cuts every year for most of the past decade and now face “even more devastating cuts,” spokeswoman Karen Collier said: “Our backs are truly against the wall.”

The district must accommodate an additional 1,000 children every year.

School districts no longer reap the benefit of property value increases. Increased local property values results in school districts getting less state school funds.

“There’s no way to win. It’s a losing battle,” Collier said. “We’ll go to court.”

Everybody agrees that the Lege did not provide funding to accommodate the continued growth in public school enrollments. We all know that the Lege didn’t come close to addressing the structural deficit caused by the 2006 property tax cut, which will be a big driver of the next deficit. This lawsuit may eventually force a change in how the Legislature addresses school funding, but then it was the last lawsuit that led to the 2006 changes, and we see where that has gotten us. The only way this will truly change is with a different mindset in the Legislature, and that’s going to require throwing a bunch of the current members out. If you want something different, you cannot vote for those who are part of the problem.

Howard wins again

It’s fourth and long for Dan Neil.

The House Election Contest Committee unanimously voted [Tuesday] to uphold Rep. Will Hartnett’s determination that Donna Howard won the long-disputed House District 48 seat. Committee members said Republican Dan Neil did not provide clear and convincing evidence to win. If Neil decides to challenge the committee’s vote, it will go to the House floor.

[…]

The committee, chaired by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, heard closing arguments from both sides today. Neil’s lawyer and former state Rep. Joe Nixon focused on five voters — two who lived outside the county and three who lived outside of the district during the election season. According to current statutes, residents are allowed to vote in their individual district if they reside in the same county and fill out a statement of residence. The three voters, Nixon said, did not fill out a statement of residence.

“It’s like having a suspended driver’s license,” he said. “You don’t really have one.”

Nixon said Neil was bearing the burden of human error, and that it was up to the committee to fix those mistakes if the true outcome could be ascertained — and, if not, to declare the election void.

Howard’s attorney, Randall “Buck” Wood, said Neil was asking for legislators to ignore existing law and make new law.

“They are simply asking you not to ask a judicial body, but to act as a legislative and political body,” Wood said. “But you’re sitting here as judge and jury.”

Hartnett said the only issue in question is where the individual actually lives.

“If we open the door to strict application to these requirements, we might as well allow re-dos for every time an election is this close,” he said.

After the committee vote, Neil said he was not surprised about the outcome, but about the unanimous vote. Going into today’s committee meeting, Neil said his team leaned toward taking the matter to the House floor, but he is likely to finalize that decision [Wednesday].

Seems to me that if we always adhered to the standard Nixon advocates, Sen. Bill Birdwell would have been knocked off the ballot last year. Be that as it may, I don’t know what Neil was expecting. I doubt he’ll get any more joy from the House, but hey, it’s Bob Perry’s his money. Rep. Howard released a statement that said:

I am obviously pleased with the committee’s decision regarding this extremely close election. Their unanimous vote reaffirms Master Hartnett’s thorough scrutiny of the details of this election contest. I look forward to continuing to serve the residents of House District 48.

As do the rest of us. Most of us, anyway. Postcards has more.

Update on the next school finance lawsuit

It’s coming, but schools are going to wait to see what the Lege does before proceeding with the inevitable.

“School districts right now are in a state of shock,” [Austin litigator Buck] Wood said. “Things are much worse than even I thought just a few months ago.”

Adding to the urgency is the fact that Texas is adding about 85,000 public school students a year.

“That begs the question — whether or not you are really gutsy enough to go in and start voting to fire 10 percent of your teachers in your school districts. That’s what it’s going to take, literally, to make that kind of cut,” Wood said.

[…]

[San Antonio ISD Superintendent Robert] Durón prefers that school districts wait before seeking help in the courts.

“Waiting a few more months to see what happens cannot hurt. It will take years for a resolution to come back from the court option,” he said.

It makes sense to wait, agreed David Hinojosa, a senior lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which has played key roles in earlier Texas school funding lawsuits.

“Although the system may be unconstitutional right now, we should give the Legislature an opportunity to do what’s right for the children of Texas,” Hinojosa said. “But if they go in the wrong direction and start cutting public education, then they should expect a very tough fight on their hands.”

I don’t know that there’s any “if” in that. It’s a matter of when.

This fact at the end really deserves to be a story on its own:

Over the past 10 years, the number of Texas public school children from low-income families has increased by about 894,000 — virtually representing the entire enrollment growth.

What have we done over those ten years to help those children build a better future for themselves and their children? Not nearly enough, that’s for sure.

Where’s Birdwell?

The Trib re-raises the question of the newest Senator’s eligibility to serve.

The newest member of the Texas Senate, Brian Douglas Birdwell, voted in the November 2004 presidential election twice, choosing between George W. Bush and John Kerry in Tarrant County, Texas, and again in Prince William County, Va., according to election records in the two states.

Voting in the same election twice is a third-degree felony in Texas.

What’s more, Birdwell’s record of voting in Virginia from 2004 through 2006 would seem to place his residency in that state, not in Texas, which could imperil his spot in the Legislature. Birdwell voted a Virginia ballot in November 2006; if that’s enough to establish him as a Virginia resident, an issue that can only be settled in court, it means he’s not eligible to serve in the Texas Senate until at least November 2011.

The voting twice issue is new, and after initially not responding, Birdwell strongly denied that allegation. He did not, however, deny voting in Virginia in 2006.

Talk of Birdwell’s eligibility dogged his campaign all along, attracting news coverage and generating talk in political circles. State law requires senators to have lived in the state for the five years before they take office and to have lived at least the last 12 months of that time in the districts they seek to serve.

Indeed, now-retired Sen. Kip Averitt briefly contemplated not retiring if Birdwell won the special election over concerns about his eligibility.

Another, earlier date — November 2006, when Birdwell last voted in Virginia — may well hold the key to whether he’s a legal candidate or not.

“It’s a piece of evidence that’s hard to refute and usually fatal,” says Randall “Buck” Wood, an Austin lawyer and a Democrat respected across the political spectrum for his mastery of election law. The residency question, as Wood sees it, puts the courts in the position of deciding whether someone did something illegal — voting in an election in a place where they don’t reside — or simply is ineligible to run in another place because of that vote. He thinks most judges would choose the second option rather than deciding the candidate in question did something criminal. The crime, if there is one, would be voting in Virginia while residing in Texas. Wood thinks a court would most likely see no crime, saying instead that the voter was a Virginia resident and voter who is simply not eligible to run for Texas Senate.

Lawyers for the Republican Party of Texas haven’t looked into Birdwell’s case, according to Bryan Preston, a party spokesman, who said the matter was left to the campaign. Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which backed Birdwell in the special election, did research the residency question and decided he is eligible, according to Sherry Sylvester, a spokeswoman for TLR. “We have endorsed Senator Birdwell, and we have contributed to his campaign,” she says. “We have reviewed the questions surrounding his residency, and like 58 percent of the voters of Senate District 22 and the eight county chairs who nominated him over the weekend, we believe he is a Texas resident.”

Yes, and Tom DeLay’s lawyers were convinced that he could be replaced on the ballot in 2006 after declaring himself a Virginia resident and withdrawing from the CD22 race. Didn’t work out too well for him, as I recall. When and if somebody files suit – my guess is that will happen shortly after the Democrats pick their own candidate and the Republicans officially tab Birdwell – we’ll see what a judge has to say. And as the Waco Trib reports, there’s more evidence that Birdwell considered himself a Virginian pretty recently:

An attorney for Sibley filed Birdwell’s voting records and other documents with state election officials, asking them to disqualify Birdwell.

After the Secretary of State’s Office stored those away, all that was left was talk and news reports along the way. But the filing at SOS supplied the factual underpinning for the argument against Birdwell’s Texas residency.

In addition to some of Birdwell’s voting records, that package includes his “resident state fishing permit” from 2006 and another from 2008 for which he paid the Virginia resident rates — lower than those paid by out-of-staters.

Those fishing licenses include this notice: “I certify that the person named on this license meets residency requirements, is eligible to buy this license, and all information on this form is true to the best of my knowledge and belief.”

That might or might not be strong evidence in a legal residency case, but it’s spice for the political argument about whether Birdwell’s candidacy is legitimate.

Like I said, we’ll presumably see what a judge thinks. I look forward to it.

Green Party appeals to Supreme Court

As expected.

Even if allegations about an illegal petition drive are true, knocking Green Party candidates off the November general election ballot before they can be proven imposes “a death penalty,” lawyers for the party argued Monday in a written appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.

The party has until Friday to certify its candidates for the fall election, but a judge last Friday ordered it not to proceed because of an “unauthorized illegal contribution” by a corporation with Republican links.

“This case matters because voters should have an alternative to entrenched career politicians. Despite the signatures of over 90,000 Texans, entrenched career politicians and their lawyers want to deny voters the right to choose in November,” said David Rogers, one of the Green Party lawyers.

Rogers, like everybody else working on behalf of the Green Party in this effort, is a professional Republican. Just as a reminder, the issue on which District Judge John Dietz based his ruling barring them from certifying their signatures was that anonymously-donated money used to pay for the third-party-run petition drive was illegal corporate cash. I understand the appeal to idealism here, but how do you address that underlying reality?

Testimony last week revealed that Mike Toomey, a close Perry friend and his former chief of staff, paid $12,000 to recent University of Texas graduate Garrett Mize to organize a petition drive to collect the 43,991 petition signatures necessary to get the Greens on the November ballot.

Mize testified he was approached by a family friend who worked for Eric Bearse, a former senior aide to Perry, and that he was told not to inform the Green Party of the financial backing. When that petition drive failed to get enough signatures, the out-of-state corporation Take Initiative America came in and completed the work. That group also has Republican connections.

Clearly, you address it by not talking about it and hoping that no one notices. Didn’t quite work out, I’m afraid.

One more point, from the DMN story:

Rogers dismissed the Democrats’ consipiracy theory to pull left-leaning voters away from White.

“If the Republican Party insiders are doing stuff like that, we wouldn’t know about it,” Rogers said. “If the Republicans are doing the right thing for the wrong reason, is it wrong or is it right?”

I’m not sure what Rogers means by “the right thing” here, but if ballot access were so important to the Republican Party and its insiders, it was well within their power to modify Texas’ laws that make it so hard for third parties and independent candidates to get certified. I don’t recall any bills being filed in the last four legislative sessions, during which the Republicans have been in full control, to that effect. Putting that aside, if they had done “the right thing” in proper fashion, we wouldn’t be having this argument in the first place.

Anyway. The Supreme Court is expected to rule by Friday, which is the deadline for parties to certify their candidates for November. That may not be the end of it, however.

Candidates for the ballot have to be certified by Friday. The Supreme Court could say that the order from District Judge John Dietz came too late in the process and is therefore moot, or it could say that the contribution was not an illegal use of corporate money, or it could temporarily allow the Green candidates on the ballot while justices take more time to study the case.

But there are other legal ramifications lurking out there. Election lawyer Buck Wood, who often helps Democratic candidates, said Monday that the Green Party leaders who certify the ballot could be susceptible to criminal charges if the Supreme Court agrees with Dietz that the money that got the Greens onto the ballot was an illegal corporate contribution. Or, more to the point, if they do not disagree with Dietz.

They would become vulnerable if they followed through with their plan to certify the candidates on the ballot, Wood said. The key is that they now know that it was a corporate contribution that came in from Take Initiative America, which paid for the petition drive that appeared to make the Greens eligible for the ballot.

“They’ve been told it’s illegal. They’ve got knowledge now,” Wood said. “If I were their lawyer, I’d say, ‘You go ahead and certify those names and hopefully the Travis County district attorney’s office won’t take an interest in you.’”

David Rogers, a lawyer for the Green Party, said, “With all due respect to Mr. Wood, who is a very fine election law attorney, I believe he is misreading the law in an attempt to gain an electoral advantage for the Democratic Party. He is a consultant for the Democrats in this matter, and all his comments regarding the law in this case need to be considered with that in mind. Texas allows corporate contributions for ‘normal operating expenses’ of a political party. If getting on the ballot isn’t a ‘normal’ expense of a political party, what is?”

Actually, it’s well established that this law refers to “administrative” expenses – things like rent and utilities and office supplies. Corporate money cannot be used on political expenses, which I daresay covers signature gathering for a ballot access petition. But what do I know? We’ll see what the Supremes have to say.

Averitt will step down

After flirting with the idea of remaining on the ballot in SD22, former State Sen. Kip Averitt has announced he will stay retired, thus creating a new race for SD22 this November.

Averitt retired and dropped his reelection bid earlier this year, but still managed to win his primary race without lifting a finger. The Democrats didn’t run a candidate, so Averitt was essentially a shoe-in to win an undesired reelection. Before yesterday’s special runoff election to determine his replacement for the remainder of the current term, Averitt floated the possibility of staying on the ballot if Brian Birdwell won.

Birdwell won, defeating Averitt-backed former state senator David Sibley with a decisive 58 percent of the vote. Averitt fears that Birdwell may be ineligible to run because some doubt that he has been a Texas resident for five years — the constitutional requirement for a state senator. Still, he says he will withdraw his name in “the next day or two.”

“The people have spoken,” he said, “and I respect the people.”

The issue, as noted by the linked story in the quote, is that Birdwell voted in Virginia in 2006, and would thus seem to not meet the five-year state residency requirement to serve in the Senate. That will be a matter for the courts, assuming someone files suit against Birdwell. Here’s how it may go from there.

Randall “Buck” Wood said if Birdwell was a resident of Texas in 2006, as he claims, then he possibly committed voter fraud in Virginia. But if Birdwell was a resident of Virginia in 2006, then Democrats could challenge his eligibility to run for the Texas Senate for the 2011-2012 term.

Birdwell won a special election last night to fill the unexpired term of retiring state Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco. Birdwell’s opponent, former state Sen. David Sibley, said during the campaign that Birdwell voted in Virginia in 2006 — a fact Birdwell does not dispute.

Wood, the election attorney, said Birdwell’s Virginia voting doesn’t necessarily disqualify him, “but darn close to it.”

The law on residency requirements is clear. According to the Texas Constitution, Senate eligibility is restricted to persons who are registered to vote in Texas, have lived in the district for a year, and have established residency in Texas five years prior to the election. Virginia law is equally clear. In order to be a registered voter in that state, he would’ve had to fill out a form swearing “under felony penalty” that he was a Virginia resident.

[…]

Wood said Birdwell’s eligibility is dependent on the establishment of “intent” to reside and “presence” in the area before the five-year limit. Wood said owning property in an area is typically not enough for the courts and physically being in an area is the usual grounds for establishing presence.

My expectation is that the courts are more likely to be lenient than harsh about this, but there’s only one way to find out. Figure a suit will be filed shortly after a Democratic nominee is picked.

Were the Green signatures obtained illegally?

Wayne Slater follows up his previous reporting on the petition signatures that were gathered by an outside organization for the Green Party with the question about the legality of it.

It’s unclear who paid for the petition drive, but funding went through Take Initiative America, a Missouri nonprofit corporation. Buck Wood, an Austin lawyer and expert in election law, said Monday that such a transaction is illegal under state law.

“That corporation cannot make contributions to political parties in Texas. And to do so is a felony,” he said. “It is also a felony for a political party to accept a corporate contribution.”

[…]

Wood said that while an individual donor could legally bankroll petition drives to put a party on the ballot, corporations cannot. Wood has represented Democrats in litigation in which corporate money was illegally used to defeat political candidates.

In the case of the Texas Green Party, a Chicago-based petition-gathering company, Free and Equal Inc., gathered the signatures under contract with Take Initiative America.

It’s unclear whether the petitions could be disallowed based on how the Green Party reports the donation. But the party and its leaders could face significant penalties if they are found to break the law.

The Texas secretary of state is reviewing the signatures submitted by the Green Party. If the agency validates the petitions, the party will be on the ballot in November. A decision is expected by the end of the month.

I have a lot of respect for Buck Wood, who knows a hell of a lot about election law, but he’s not exactly a disinterested bystander here. I’d like to hear from some more experts to see if there’s a consensus view on this. I’m also unclear about whether or not the Secretary of State’s ruling on the signatures’ validity includes consideration of the issue that Wood raises, or if their only mandate is to check to see if the signers are registered voters who did not participate in the primaries. If so, then I presume a lawsuit would have to be filed to challenge the legality of the petitions and their funding source. Can anyone confirm this? Thanks.

Bell lawsuit against Perry advances

In November of 2007, Chris Bell filed a lawsuit against Governor Rick Perry’s 2006 re-election campaign and the Republican Governor’s Association claiming they illegally hid $1 million in donations from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry. The suit alleges that the RGA was not legally set up to make donations at the time of the contributions to Perry. More information on the allegations in the suit is here. On Tuesday in Austin, the plaintiffs survived a motion to dismiss.

District Judge John Dietz late [Tuesday] denied efforts by Texans for Rick Perry and the Republican Governors Association to throw out a lawsuit brought against them by Democrat Chris Bell, who ran against Perry in 2006, said Bell lawyer Buck Wood.

[…]

Wood said the Dietz ruling did not address Bell’s own effort to have a summary judgment in the case. If that effort is also denied, the case will move closer to a trial.

Good for Bell. These things obviously move very slowly, so don’t expect the next update to come any time soon.